Year Two's Offensive Uptick
North Texas Has Seen Littrell's Pattern Of Second Year Offensive Jump Come To Fruition
DENTON - Last January, Jalen Guyton had a decision to make.
The Allen, Texas native was coming off a season that saw him catch 45 passes for 968 yards and 12 touchdowns for Trinity Valley CC, and he had positioned himself as the fourth-best junior college wide receiver prospect in the nation, according to 247Sports.
After some thorough research before his transfer to a Division I program, he passed on programs like West Virginia, Marshall and Southern Miss and signed with North Texas.
During that research into the Mean Green program, one theme kept coming up - offensive success, and lots of it.
"I recognized who we had as coaches, people like [wide receivers coach Joel] Filani, who's put in work and has his own pedigree, [offensive coordinator Graham] Harrell, who has his own pedigree and of course, [head coach Seth] Littrell."
Littrell has a history of offensive success - specifically in year two at a coaching stop - and Guyton and the Mean Green are reaping the benefits.
"When you put one good thing with another good thing with another good thing, usually you'll have something great," Guyton said of the North Texas offensive coaching staff. "That's kind of what I was thinking when I came here."
The result of that recipe has been Littrell's typical second-year uptick in offensive production, but this year has proven he can see the same results as a head coach, not just as offensive coordinator like his previous stops at Arizona (2009-11), Indiana (2012-13) and North Carolina (2014-15).
In Littrell's first year in Denton last season, the Mean Green averaged 341.8 yards per game in 12 games. This season at the regular season's halfway point, UNT is averaging 499.2 yards per contest and is on pace to put up just shy of 6,000 total yards in 12 games. The Mean Green lead Conference USA in total offense and rank 12th nationally.
In 10 games last season, then-freshman quarterback Mason Fine threw for 1,572 yards and six touchdowns with a passing efficiency of 113.7. This year through six games, he's already thrown for 1,796 yards, 14 touchdowns and has a passing efficiency of 156.9.
"He knows this system in and out," Fine said of his head coach. "He's the mastermind behind it. He's passionate about what he does. I'm sure he spends tons of hours in the film room. It translates on to the field.
"I think he's also helped [Harrell] a lot over the past couple of years," Fine added. "He's grown as a coach, and that shows offensively. Maybe he's calling a play he wouldn't have called last year and putting us in great situations to go out and execute."
Last year, Fine's top receiver was Thaddeous Thompson, who finished the season with 545 yards and two touchdowns. No receiver had more than two touchdown catches a year ago. This year, Guyton leads C-USA and is ranked third nationally with seven touchdown receptions through six games. He leads the conference in receiving yards (626) and is ranked ninth nationally.
But UNT's success isn't all via the pass.
Senior running back Jeffery Wilson leads the conference in rushing yards (749) and yards per game (124.8) and is second in rushing touchdowns (nine) while ranking in the top 15 nationally in all three categories.
"He makes it easy to believe and easy for you to buy in," Wilson said of Littrell. "Once you buy into the system and know it works - not only from recent situations we've been in but also his resume - once you buy in, it makes it that much easier for us."
In Littrell's three previous stops as an offensive coordinator before coming to Denton, his teams improved by an average of 52.7 yards per game in his second season. UNT is on pace to shatter that number this year with a 157.4 yards per game uptick through the first six games.
"In year two, you usually put a lot more on them and they know the system," Littrell said. "You try to keep it as simple as possible in year one, so they can at least play fast. It's also about growing and making sure you know who your personnel is and the guys you want to get the ball to and who your quarterback is. A lot of the times, he dictates what you're going to do. You have to make sure he's comfortable and put him in great situations.
"The coaches are comfortable in the system now, too, and the players start figuring out the adjustments. When people attack us now, we have the answers in the system and once the players understand those answers you can make in-game adjustments a lot faster. We have a great group of coaches. They do an unbelievable job. All the credit goes to them and the players. None of it is for me. It's those guys putting the great work in."